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Fire training simulators: Reviewing options for firefighter training

Latest units meld technology and materials to test firefighters’ skills


No live-fire training simulator can completely replicate the actual conditions firefighters encounter during structural firefighting; however, manufacturers of live-fire training simulators are merging construction design and techniques with technology on a scale never seen before.

AP Photo/Toby Talbot

Training firefighters to develop the skills and experience necessary to be safe, effective and efficient in their work has never been more important.

One reason: The hazards associated with interior structural firefighting only continue to grow because the newer materials used in building construction make for fires that burn hotter and faster.

Another reason: As the number of structural fires in the United States continues to decline, today’s firefighters have fewer fires where they can gain experience in fire suppression. Fire departments across the country are becoming more reliant on live-fire training simulators (e.g., structural burn buildings) to provide both new and veteran firefighters an environment where they can gain realistic experience.

No live-fire training simulator can completely replicate the actual conditions firefighters encounter during structural firefighting; however, manufacturers of live-fire training simulators are merging construction design and techniques with technology on a scale never seen before.

The hazards of firefighting demand that fire training programs address more than just interior structural firefighting. Firefighters need the hands-on skills development for a variety of fire situations, and the manufacturers of fire training simulators – Fire Training Structures, Fireblast Global, KFT, Free Fire Simulator, Fully Involved Fire, ETC Simulation Training Systems and Fire Training Structures, LLC – are meeting that demand.

The following is a sampling of the fire training simulators now available and what they can do.

Mobile structural fire simulators

Mobile fire simulators for interior structural firefighting offer a fire department the flexibility of having a training simulator that can go to the members, rather than members going to a fixed facility. Mobile fire simulators also lend themselves to resource-sharing between departments, which can significantly reduce the financial burden on individual departments.

Manufacturers are incorporating many of the features found in fixed-facility burn structures, such as interactive propane-fueled fire simulators that react to a firefighter’s ability to direct the fire stream to the proper location with the appropriate gpm flow. Their products also include computer systems that actively monitor interior fire temperatures and can automatically shut-down the training operation if those temperatures exceed set limits.

Mobile fire simulators for training using Class A materials (e.g., wood pallets, straw) are also available to give both entry-level and incumbent firefighters a more realistic fire training environment. These simulators can also include a confidence-building maze that doubles the simulators functionality.

ARFF fire simulators

According to the FAA, there are more than 19,000 airports, heliports, seaplane bases and other landing facilities in the United States and its territories. Did you know that roughly 95% of aircraft accidents happen within 10 miles of an airport? Mobile Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting (ARFF) simulators can be a valuable training tool for preparing structural firefighters to safely, effectively and efficiently respond to an aircraft crash fire.

Mobile ARFF fire-training units can be configured to meet a variety of training scenarios for both internal and external fires. They can also include forcible entry panels, internal seat/cargo configurations, typical and emergency entryways, along with different wing and tail engine configurations.

Maritime fire simulators

Combating shipboard fires or conducting victim searches and removal operations present special hazards and working conditions for firefighters. Such maritime emergencies can occur at shipping ports and cruise line ports on the country’s east and west coasts, the Gulf Coast as well as ports along major U.S. waterways, like the Mississippi River.

Maritime fire simulators can replicate those challenges of a maritime emergency in a safe, reliable environment designed for repeated use. Features of maritime fire simulators can include ship doors, portals and ship ladders and the access challenges not present in structural fire simulators; bilge and engine room fires; and confined spaces for victim rescue and removal.

Miscellaneous all-hazards simulators

Today, simulators are available for the wide variety of emergency response services that fire departments are providing in their communities. These can include hazmat trainers, forcible-entry props and vehicle fire simulators using Class A or Class B fuels, as well as more hazard-specific props, such as:

  • Gas/fuel tanks
  • Dumpsters
  • Propane grills
  • Gas lines/meters
  • Dip tanks

Simulators for incident management training

The decrease in actual fires and lack of experience gained from those fires doesn’t only affect task-level firefighters. New fire officers need to learn command and control skills, and incumbent officers need opportunities to maintain those skills. Fire command simulators are fast becoming a necessary tool for fire departments to address these challenges.

The Free Fire Simulator is simple, easy to use and, as the name says, free! It has many different fire scenarios (e.g., one-story bungalow, two-story Victorian house, two airport scenarios), with more being added all the time. This is a very basic simulator that gives you a picture of an occupancy to which you then “drag and drop” graphics that represent fire and smoke where you want on the photo to create fire conditions that a first-arriving officer would see.

Even though it’s a basic and static simulator, it’s a good tool for practicing size-ups in training drills and testing scenarios or public presentations. I’d recommend it as a tool for a fire officer, such as a battalion chief, to use when traveling around the battalion working with junior officers to develop their command skills.’s The Online Command Simulator is an interactive command training simulator that gives the student the ability to see, hear and interact with a given fire situation. Students can use the resource number designations provided, such as Engine 1, or enter the unit number designations used by their department, for example, Engine 301.

Students can develop their new skills or hone existing skills as they work through conducting a size-up, transmitting an initial radio report (typing into a dialogue box) and assigning resources to tactical positions. Students can also engage in friendly competition with others using the simulator by submitting their time for bringing the incident under control.

Additionally, the Fully Involved Fire Store offers Command Simulators via CDs that cover a wide variety of fire scenarios and occupancies. Simulators can be purchased separately or in boxed sets at a reduced price.

ETC Training Simulations offers the ADMS line of command simulation products that can be used to effectively train incident commanders, command post staff, and vehicle operators at all levels. Training can be on an individual basis, in a team setting or for simulated exercises that call on a department’s entire chain-of-command (from first-arriving officer through transition of command to a senior officer and ultimate resolution of the event).

Get ready for the real world

Your fire department’s capabilities to develop the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to be safe, effective and efficient in their work has never been more important. And never has that last quality – the ability to apply what they’ve learned – become more important. With the variety of training simulators we’ve discussed, any fire department should be able to find the right simulator at the right price to give their people the experiences they need to prepare them for the real world.

Read next: Fire training simulators: DIY or buy commercial

Editor’s Note: What fire training simulators do you think most closely replicate the fireground experience? Share in the comments below.

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an instructor for fire, EMS and hazardous materials courses at the local, state and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s EFO Program. Beyond his writing for and, Avsec authors the blog Talking “Shop” 4 Fire & EMS and has published his first book, “Successful Transformational Change in a Fire and EMS Department: How a Focused Team Created a Revenue Recovery Program in Six Months – From Scratch.” Connect with Avsec on LinkedIn or via email.

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